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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Former felons deserve a second chance

The Times Herald - Published 3:42 p.m. ET Sept. 11, 2018

Former felons deserve a second chance
One of the things that is Pure Michigan is sending people to prison. Although incarceration rates have fallen the past few years, there are three times as many people in Michigan prisons now than there were four decades ago. If Michigan were a country, it would have one of the top 20 incarceration rates in the world and would likely be on a State Department watch list.

More than six of every 100 Michiganders is in prison. About twice as many are former felons, those who have been released from prison, although many are still repaying a debt to society they no long owe.

It turns out that society needs them. Michigan needs them to get up in the morning and come to work. For many, though, that isn’t possible because one of the first things many employers ask, after name and address on a job application, is whether the applicant has been convicted of a felony.

One of those who would have to answer yes is the voice of those Pure Michigan commercials. Ten years before “Home Improvement” and 18 years before the debut of the state tourism campaign, Tim Allen was paroled from federal prison where he was serving three to seven years after being arrested with almost a pound and a half of cocaine.

Allen found work after his felony convictions.

Other former felons should be given the same chance. Many won’t. Some former felons are reluctant to apply for jobs, knowing they will have to check that box. Many employers won’t look past that blemish on a potential asset’s past history. Either way, applicants don’t get interviewed, employers don’t learn about important and relevant training and experience, well qualified people won’t get jobs and businesses will struggle to fill vital positions.

The felony question isn’t a valid predictor of future performance and should be illegal. In a handful of states and a few cities across the country, it is. A bill to ban it in Michigan never got a committee hearing.

But an executive order of Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan last week just became one of about three dozen states that doesn’t ask the question of prospective state employees.

The city of Port Huron will no longer ask its applicants if they’ve been convicted of a felony. Beyond being a good business practice, it is part of City Manager James Freed’s campaign to give the city a reputation as a place welcoming to anyone who wants to work.

City Council can’t extend the ban to include other employers in the city, as Austin, Texas, and other cities have done.

That’s because, in March, Snyder signed Senate Bill 353, which prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances that restrict use of the felony question by private employers. Irony is not a crime.

Former felons deserve a second chance



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Former felons deserve a second chance


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Eric Mayo

 
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